My Alternative Spring Break in New Orleans – A Rewarding and Unforgettable Experience

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

By Tim Inthavong*

My fellow CU volunteers and I while working with Common Ground Relief

There are significant moments that change a person’s life and how they view the world, and my Alternative Spring Break trip to New Orleans was an unforgettable experience that I will remember forever. I am truly grateful to the Casey Feldman Foundation for funding my trip with a scholarship stipend which enabled me to volunteer to help a community and environment in need.

At the outset, my fellow volunteer students and I from the University of Colorado Boulder worked with the nonprofit, Common Ground Relief  headquartered in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Founded initially in 2005 to provide disaster relief following Hurricane Katrina, Common Ground has since revised it’s mission to reflect a forward-looking focus to restore and preserve Louisiana’s disappearing coastal wetlands. Wetlands are crucial to prevent flooding since they hold water much like a sponge, helping to keep river waters normal, and slowly releasing water when levels are low. In addition to many other benefits, the wetlands provide a habitat for a diverse group of wildlife.

After being introduced to the environmental issues affecting the Lower Ninth Ward community due to Hurricane Katrina, our group worked at a plant nursery where we watered and removed weeds from bull grasses that would be used to restore the wetlands. My favorite and most rewarding  experience was then actually planting the bull grasses onto the wetland floor.

In the wetlands where we worked to plant bull grasses

At first, I felt uncomfortable and was in fact, very nervous to physically plant them. I worried about the difficulty in moving through all of the thick algae and the uncertainty as to how deep I was swimming. I continued however, and planted the grasses. I felt great satisfaction afterwards in knowing that I had contributed to helping to restore the wetlands and mitigate the effects of a future hurricane on the people of New Orleans. The experience had another strong impact on me as well, in that it served as a learning opportunity.  I realized that it’s okay to be scared in a new and uncomfortable situation and that by proceeding in the face of it, I can conquer that fear.

My group also performed volunteer work at Crevasse 22, an indoor and outdoor art exhibit with an ecological theme.  It sits in a natural area of forests and marshes and contains a deep lake, created by a crevasse, or breach in the levee in 1922.  It is steps away from the Mississippi River and borders St. Bernard State Park. Our work there was to uproot and get rid of  invasive plants damaging the natural habitat of wildlife. This service that was done was the most difficult, but it was extremely rewarding to know that our work was supporting a safe environment for animals to live and grow their population. I thought of Casey Feldman and her love of animals and how my work there was made possible through the Foundation established in her memory. It was deeply gratifying knowing that I was honoring and continuing her legacy.

My Alternative Spring Break trip also afforded me the opportunity to create and build new relationships.  My group and I traveled together in a van for 40 hours round-trip from Boulder, Colorado and lived and worked together the entire week. I did not know any of my fellow volunteers when the trip began, but, by the end of the week, I had 15 close friends  –  David Ruin, Julia Book, Tyler Ennis, Danya Arie, Diantha McAllister, Elise Warnock, Emma Blanken, Feben Kassahun, Hiba Abdali, Jose Canizares, Julia Smith, Maggie Hearn, Marissa Kelly, Mohammed, Pujan Tandukar, Vladimir Brizuela. Without them, the service week would not have been as enriching an experience.

I came into this trip far from my community in Westminster, Colorado not knowing much about the environmental issues facing the people of New Orleans and it’s wildlife habitat. But, by at the end of the week, I had gained so much knowledge about the issues facing the people of Louisiana 12 years after Hurricane Katrina’s devastation.

As I get older and look back at this trip, I can say “I really made in impact on others.”  It makes me smile to know that I made a difference through an experience that I was able to share with others. Above the clouds, I picture Casey Feldman smiling too.

On the site of Crevasse 22 where we worked to remove invasive species

In the forest at Crevasse 22

 

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*Tim Inthavong just completed his junior year at the University of Colorado Boulder. He is studying economics and business and would like to work  for a hospital as a health administrator after graduating. He is one of five children of a single refugee mother whom he has worked to support in and around his studies and volunteer work.

What has Jamie Haller been doing doing to “leave this world a better place”? An update on our 2012 ASB scholarship recipient

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

*By Dianne AndersonJamie with her students in Columbia

Jamie with her students in Colombia

“My week in New Orleans helping to rebuild a home destroyed by Hurricane Katrina was incredible and by far, one of the most rewarding weeks of my life”, said Jamie Haller in 2012. Jamie was able to spend her one week spring break from college working to help Katrina victims as a result of a Casey Feldman Foundation scholarship stipend which covered Jamie’s expenses for the trip. After that spring break experience, Jamie “vowed to leave this world a better place.”  What has Jamie been up to in the three and a half years since her work in New Orleans and has she been working toward that goal?

After graduating in May of 2014 with a degree in International Affairs and a minor in Education, Jamie knew that she wanted to head abroad to work in the realm of education, something she reports that, “I’ve always been passionate about.”  This led Jamie to Guatemala where she obtained a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate. Jamie then worked at a language school in Antigua, Guatemala teaching adults and the local tourist police force for five months.

Wanting to make more of an impact,  Jamie accepted a teaching opportunity in Colombia. The program was right –  it involved working in underfunded and under resourced public schools where there is little access to quality English education. Jamie reports being grateful for her six months in Colombia where she learned a lot about herself as a teacher, her students and life in general.

Jamie is currently in New Mexico, teaching environmental stewardship at an outdoor education school for elementary students. From there?

Jamie has accepted an inviation to work for the Peace Corps in March of 2016. She will be heading onto to the Dominican Republic for 27 months to volunteer as a Literacy Promoter!

According to Jamie, “My experience with Alternative Breaks at CU Boulder has been such a huge stepping-stone to get me to where I am today. The leadership skills gained, the friendships formed, and the confidence I’ve obtained from my two Alternative Break experiences, have helped me grow as a person and work toward achieving many of my goals.”  I want to especially thank Dianne and Joel and the Casey Feldman Foundation  for granting me this opportunity. It is an honor to help Casey’s legacy live on.”

And, it is an honor to have Jamie Haller as one of the recipients of a scholarship which bears Casey’s name. In answer to the question? In everything that Jamie has done already, she will no doubt have already accomplished her goal of leaving this world a better place.

Support our efforts in fostering a generation who want to leave this world a better place and assist us in increasing the number of students who can participate. Donate to the Casey Feldman Foundation

Jamie Haller with goat

Related Links: 

Scholarship Recipient Vows to Leave this World a Better Place, Oct. 2012 (Casey Feldman Foundation article about Jamie and her Alternative Spring Break experience)

About the Alternative Spring Break Program (CU Volunteer Resource Center)

Alternative Spring Break Scholarships Fostering a Generation Who Wants to Give Back , Nov. 2014  (Casey Feldman Foundation) 

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Dianne and Casey, Christmas 2006

Dianne and Casey, Christmas 2006

*Dianne Anderson is the mother of the late Casey Feldman and co-founder of the The Casey Feldman Foundation and its sponsored project, EndDD.org.

Scholarship Recipient Vows to Leave this World a Better Place

Saturday, October 6th, 2012

By Dianne L. Anderson

Jamie Haller (L) priming drywall

“My week in New Orleans helping to rebuild a home destroyed by Hurricane Katrina was incredible and by far, one of the most rewarding weeks of my life”, reported Jamie Haller, a 2012 recipient of a Casey Feldman Foundation Alternative Spring Break scholarship stipend.

A junior and international relations major and education minor at the University of Colorado – Boulder, Jamie has been raised by a single mother for the past 8 years and works year round to pay for her own tuition, books and living expenses.  With no money left to spare to cover the expenses of the trip, Jamie was extremely grateful to the Casey Feldman Foundation for the $500 stipend.

Jamie and her fellow volunteers stayed at a church in the lower 9th ward of New Orleans–the area hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina.”I was shocked to see how much work has yet to be done in the area, certain streets felt like ghost towns with the large number of empty lots and remains of houses”, stated Jamie. “ It is hard to believe that these people have gone through so much and yet their upbeat spirit has remained–it is truly inspirational to see.”

The students working on Betty's house

Jamie and a team of student volunteers spent 4 days working with the non-profit, St.Bernard Project which has rebuilt over 445 homes in the greater New Orleans area since 2006. Jamie and her fellow volunteers worked on the home of an elderly woman, “Betty”, whose home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.  The students “mudded”, sanded and primed drywall, caulked, primed and painted the exterior of the house and laid down linoleum on the interior floors.

“I’m happy that Betty will soon be able to live in a healthy and clean environment”, said Jamie. “It was so great seeing how quickly things can come together when you have such a great team working alongside one another”.

What are Jamie’s pans for the future upon graduation? Ms. Haller plans on joining the Peace Corps, after which she hopes to work on developing education plans in West Africa.”I want to leave this world a better place than when I found it”, said Jamie.

Contribute to the Casey Feldman Foundation so that more students may experience the rewards of an Alternative Spring Break.  

Jamie Haller cauking the exterior of Betty's home

Related Links:

University of Colorado Boulder Volunteer Resource Center (Plans and organizes Alternative Spring Break trips for students at CU)

St. Bernard Project

Helping our children experience the gift of helping others, article in the Fall CU Parent Newsletter by Casey Feldman’s parents, Joel Feldman and Dianne Anderson in which they discuss the establishment of the Alternative Spring Break scholarships in Casey’s memory

Casey Feldman Inspiration video , produced by CU Boulder broadcast journalism student Kylie Bearse and which aired on CU Boulder TV News, concerning the Alternative Spring Break program and the scholarships established in Casey’s memory

– Previous  articles on the Casey Feldman Foundation News and Updates about the Alternative Spring Break Program and the many scholarship recipients who have benefited